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    Get Your Read On

    Title: Bag of Bones (529 pages)
    Author: Stephen King
    Published: 1998

    With Bag of Bones, Stephen King delivers a chilling ghost story worthy of Edgar Allan Poe. Perhaps not King’s most acclaimed novel, but long and satisfyingly excellent nonetheless, this book deserves to be read by any fan of the horror genre.

    As we often see with King, his narrator is a writer himself. Bag of Bones is told by Mike Noonan, a novelist of mediocre fame and accomplishment (‘New York Times top fifteen, but never the top ten’). The text is a relation of Noonan’s search for answers in the wake of his wife’s death. His life is irrevocably altered when she has a sudden stroke one day, and over the next couple of years, he begins to be suspicious of the circumstances of first her death, and later the last year of her life.

    Noonan’s search leads him to their summer home, Sara Laughs, in a Maine town called TR-90. It is too small to have ever been properly named. The community that he finds there, a community he has been familiar with for years, begins to change before his eyes as secrets are exposed and nerves pricked. Characters like Bill Dean, Noonan’s caretaker, and Kenny Auster, a town handyman of sorts, frown heavily upon Noonan’s digging and prodding. The town has its secrets; its people are set in their ways. On a visit to Dean’s house in the wake of a subtle altercation between them, Noonan reports:

    He was wearing his usual khaki shirt and pants ‘- Bill Dean would be a Dickies man until he died ‘- but his shoulders looked slumped, almost sprained, as if he’d spent a week lugging buckets that were too heavy for him. The falling-away of the face had finally begun, an indefinable something that makes the eyes look too big, the jaw too prominent, the mouth a bit loose. He looked old.

    King’s descriptive powers are at their height in this novel. He weaves his magical spell on the reader, pulling them into ‘the TR,’ as the locals call it. He makes the reader hear the music of Sara and the Red-Tops (‘It ain’t nuthin’ but a barn-dance sugar, it ain’t nuthin’ but a round-and-round‘), the quasi-legendary African American band that played around the turn of the century and never recorded a single song, and that becomes deeply connected to the plot of the novel.

    So where are all the ghosts? Noonan discovers early on that Sara Laughs (named after the same musically acclaimed Sara of the last paragraph) is being haunted by someone, or something. He suspects it is his wife, but is unwilling to jump to conclusions. His casual attitude toward the haunting of his house is one of the most unusual and compelling aspects of the book ‘- we need to know what is going to happen to our speaker, as he is seemingly dancing with the devil.

    The second plot involves a rich old computer tycoon that owns the town, and his granddaughter-in-law, recently widowed, trying to keep her child away from the psychotic mogul. Although this encompasses a controlling share of the novel’s pages, it is merely a vehicle for Noonan’s personal quest toward finding the truth about his wife’s death.

    The chapters in this book are a bit long, so reading one per sitting will probably work best. It is not a novel to speed through, as is generally the case with King. Bag of Bones is the most believable ghost story I have come across to date, and will have you listening for things that go bump in the night, more likely than not. Enjoy!

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